Every year, foster children enter the “system” with increasingly more serious emotional (and behavioral) problems. It’s one key reason that veteran foster parents take an early retirement. And, it may also be why we lose so many foster parents after the placement of their very first foster child. Here are examples of stories foster parents have told me that highlight this problem (Note: names and particulars are disguised):

Story One: Ever since the Smiths became foster parents, their dog’s hair has been falling out in clumps. They thought it was due to ‘nerves.’ “Our pooch, Trixie, was not originally a ‘hairless’ breed,” explained Mrs. Smith. “She used to be a pretty calm animal. Now she rarely lies down and only naps when Timmy, our foster son, goes to respite care for the week-end. The teacher says he has Attention Deficit. At home he never stops running around and almost never sleeps through the night. Whenever he goes to respite care, we all breathe a sigh of relief—especially Trixie! Just recently, I found out from the vet that Trixie’s hair loss was because Timmy was pulling it out of her! Poor dog.”

Story Two: Beth Jones, a single foster mother, says that more than one parent on the block has wondered about the clump of keys she wears on her hip. “It’s like we moved to Fort Leavenworth prison because we’re living in a lock down unit,” she lamented, “ If I don’t lock the pantry, the refrigerator, and my bedroom, things come up missing. Living with Gabriella, our cute little kleptomaniac, has turned my home into an indoor fortress.”

Story Three: Since they became foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Herrera’s life has been a total commitment to being honest. “Our belief is that truth is the foundation for love and family. We have taught our own children the value and importance of truth, but Emily (their foster daughter) doesn’t get it.” The Herrera’s tell a sad, private joke that Emily only lies “when her lips move.”

Almost everything I know about dealing with problem behaviors in foster and adoptive children I learned from foster and adoptive parents. I’ve written about the “collective wisdom” of foster and adoptive parents. My books depict how foster parents have had to reinvent parenting because of the level of emotional and behavioral problems kids bring to the family. In my opinion, foster parents—veterans and novices alike—need better tools to help them analyze problems and develop effective strategies. One tool that I’m fast becoming a believer in is the Internet.

With federal funding and the technical expertise of Northwest Media (Eugene, Oregon), I have produced a Web site for parents that deals with problem behaviors, psychiatric diagnoses, and approaches to handling them. The site is called Foster and Adoptive Parent College. It’s a parent training resource that uses interactive audio-visual presentations and it is available 24-7 on any computer that is online. Parents can take the courses, which are also available on DVD, in their home or office, and, when the kids are finally in bed.

The Ten “Most Un-Wanted” List

Ten of the training courses on the site target the most common, persistent, and perhaps most un-wanted, behavior problems foster parents talk about and want   more information about. The list includes:
Anger Outbursts, Lying, Stealing, Eating Disorders and Food Issues, Sexualized Behavior, Fire-Setting, Sleep Problems, Self-Destructive Behavior, Running Away, and Wetting and Soiling. In the next year, there will be 20 trainings in total.

The “Dirty Half-Dozen”

Other courses zero in on “the dirty half-dozen”— the most prevalent psychiatric diagnoses among foster children. These include: ADHD/ODD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder/Oppositional Defiant Disorder), PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Anxiety Disorders, RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), Mood Disorders (Depression, Bi-Polar), PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder) /Autistic Spectrum Disorder/MR (Mental Retardation), and OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder).